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Our Your Empty Nest Experts

Claudia Arp

Claudia Arp

Co-founder of Marriage Alive International

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Natalie Caine

Natalie Caine

Therapist, coach and author

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Dr. Ellen Neiley Ritter

Dr. Ellen Neiley Ritter

Founder of Family Transitions Coaching

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Filling Your Empty Nest

Try on New Hats

Aside from the emotional surge you may feel during the first 30 days of an empty nest, you may also question your identity. A change in role can be especially challenging for full-time mothers who now wonder, “If I am not a mom, then who am I?”

Take some time to explore how your role will change now that the kids are gone. You don’t need to attend to their every need anymore, so how often will you be in touch? How will you advise them on major life decisions? Think about how your parenting will change now that your children are adults.

Some parents may be thrilled to be on their own again. Patty says that when her boys left home, she got her identity back. “I wasn’t Mike’s mom or John’s mom,” she recalls. “I was Patty. It felt wonderful.”

This may also be a time of examination when it comes to your career. Recent research from Cornell University shows that a third of all baby boomers (the generation currently most likely to experience empty nest syndrome) are planning a second career, and many of them are likely to do it once the kids have grown.

Career evaluations may be quite different for moms and dads who are dealing with an empty nest. Fathers are usually at the peak of their careers, beginning to focus more on home life and retirement. Mothers who were generally more responsible for the kids now become more expansive, wanting to go back to school for degrees, developing careers or starting their own businesses.

“Women tend to have this late-in-life energy,” says Burghardt, “so looking at roles can be very freeing.” She suggests sitting down with your partner or spouse—possibly with a glass of wine in hand—and toasting your successful parenting while discussing new career opportunities.

If you’re not prepared to make a career or job change at this point, you may benefit from focusing on your current job. Sal and his wife, Deb, were able to throw themselves into their land surveying business once their kids moved out, which strengthened their marriage. “I am closer to my wife than ever,” says Sal. “Our world doesn’t revolve around the kids anymore.”

Karen was also able to continue her work as an editor when her kids left home, which kept her occupied and distracted. “I had mothers come up to me and tell me how lucky I was to have the magazine because it gave me a structure,” she says. “I [already] had an identity outside the kids.”

If your children have just recently left the house, Disbennett-Lee advises against jumping into anything too quickly. “Don’t rush into anything, join something or sign up for a long-term commitment,” she says. “The first month is a great time to be in the silence, go within and see what it is you would really like to do now that you have the opportunity.”

Posted: 11/29/07

My last child left the nest, and is over 3000 miles away, about 3 days ago. I feel like nothing I do-making dinner, cleaning the house, etc. has any real purpose anymore. All three of my adult children are hours away. My family lives in Michigan, and we are in Windsor. I'm really in a funk right now. The silence is overwhelming. I turned to your website for some inspiration. I have a job still-five days a week, so that keeps me busy. My son & his girlfriend were my best friends. I feel like a big piece of me is gone. Nothing seems to make me feel happy right now. I really need to get up and get motivated. I'm hoping your website will help me to cope. We don't have a lot of money to go on trips right now. I have no desire to return to school again. My friends are great, but they are busy too. I have found just reading that this is a normal thing that alot of parents go through has been helpful. Thank-you.

  • By Denben
  • on 3/6/11 6:31 PM EST

My daughter, only child, left one month ago for college. It was really the anticipation that was the hard part; Is she going to be ok, how are we (my husband and I) going to be after 19 yrs with a child to back to just "us". Turned out she was fine and knowing that we are fine. We love the peace; love the visits...funny how it all just seems right...we are all good!

  • By Stella2
  • on 10/1/10 7:18 PM EST

I have the emptiness of "old age" never had 'empty nest" when the children left- i had a wonderful carreer, many friends, and
charity activities. Now i have had 2 surgeries, most friends are gone either by death or moving, and i the busy freak ,am just really undecided as to what to do-there is not one group that fits this. I may move to a "community" but that takes effort and stress. And the "family" is scattered. I cant be the only one because no one is ever the only one. and the 3rd surgery scares me. mclaire12


I hit the empty nestor syndrom big time 8 years ago when my only daughter left to College. It does get better... My daughter is a Jr. High School teacher...Those first few years were hard...being a single parent..but I had to learn that my identity was not my daughter.

  • By hzleyz
  • on 4/28/08 8:40 PM EST